It was almost 7pm Tuesday night when I pulled up. I had played this gig a few times before and pretty much knew what to expect. I brought my kids with me as I’ve done before since its a family event. I arrived late as usual and didn’t have time to chat or even take in the surroundings for that matter before we started playing. The band was all there and set up in a courtyard outside. It was a beautiful night and it looked like we were the closing act of a party they must have had outside under tents. I had worked all day, went straight to get my kids which my daughter was feeling a little sicky and weepy, and then drove all the way out there, grabbing my only meal of the day on the way,…a drive thru grilled chicken simulation of food.

I hurriedly set up my keyboard, mic and stuff under the gaze of the band and audience and then we immediately broke into song. OK, I’ll admit I was feeling a little stressed and put out.
But then I took a breath, looked out into the crowd and realized where I was and what I was doing.
The audience was all assembled in a few rows in front of us. Most of them were in electric wheelchairs or scooters of various kinds. Throughout the crowd were staff and family sitting and chatting with the residents. This is our gig at Quality Living, Inc. for brain and spinal injury rehabilitation. QLI is a nonprofit rehab residence in a 40 acre village east of 72nd and Sorensen Pkwy. It’s actually the nation’s largest of it’s kind providing this specialized care. From the little I know about QLI, they are well respected in the field and reinventing the way it’s done with great success.
Now, I don’t know if we ever asked for money in the first place but they insist on giving us a check every time we’ve played. After our first gig here we all agreed it would never be for the money. Last time they paid us, Matt Wallace, our sax player came up with the idea to buy some percussion instruments like tambourines and shakers etc to give out to our audience the next time we did this gig. Well, this was the next time. After we were a few songs in and had blown them away (I might be exaggerating but you weren’t there so, why not), Nikki Boulay and Jeff Sauvageau, our singers broke out the box full of instruments and handed them out. The audience loved it and they readied their instruments for the next song. For the rest of the night we were one big, screwed up, out of time, clashing cacophony of a band and I can’t say we’ve ever sounded better.
My feelings of frustration fell away as I could see these appreciative people come to life beaming. I could barely concentrate on my playing, not because of all the additional percussive noise but because I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. These people trapped inside of their injured bodies and brains were suddenly succeeding on shining through for us to see. It was so obvious. Some were struggling to keep time with their tambourines because they knew the beat, even if their bodies weren’t allowing them to tap it out just right. But you could tell. One of the men we’ve met before was openly hitting on Nikki and I gotta say, he had good stuff. This guy’s in a fricken wheelchair, can barely hold his head up and he was smooth. He’s the same guy that wrote a song and had a musician sing and record it for him. Turns out it’s a beautiful song. Of course he played the CD for Nikki after the gig. Oh ya, the old, “Hey wanna listen to a song I wrote after you’re done.” Well played, sir.
I personally was so taken at the end of the night when we busted into the Stones classic, Honkytonk Woman. A woman named Kim, that pulled way up close to the band almost came out of her chair when we started. It was apparent she knew this song and as debilitated as she was I could see her mouth forming the words with us as we sang. I was mesmerized. For the first time I could see her. Really see her. There was a woman in there with a past and a history and a future that loved this song and she still did. I stared at her as she jammed with the tambourine and fought through her body’s failure to get those words out. She was working so hard. Her face was straining and I watched her concentrate with all she had to sing along. It was a triumph and I am so floored I got to see it and help play for her and inspire that effort, that moment. I had to thank her.
It sounds like a pretty giving thing we’re doing but here’s the deal. OK great, we all showed up the first time we played there not expecting much and not knowing what we were getting into. We’ll take that, but honestly, we’re musicians that love to play, so this isn’t exactly asking much. But having played the gig and having had these experiences, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that we get more out of it than anyone. Here’s what we realized. It’s an honor to get to play for these individuals. Because that’s it. They are all individuals that were once just like you and me. With families. friends, jobs, plans and kids and successes and failures. Just like us. They felt sorry for people the way they are now. Just like us. They never in a million years saw themselves like this. Just like us. And then something happened and there they are. It could happen to anyone. Just like us. The people that they were are still in those broken bodies and brains and they are, Just…Like…Us.

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